15.1.20

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME 2020 INDUCTEES



The news came through earlier today that two of my choices for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2020 – Depeche Mode and T. Rex – are amongst the six chosen, although, confusingly, I was asked to pick just five from among the 16 nominees. As well as Dep Mode and T. Rex, I also voted for Todd Rundgren, Kraftwerk and Motörhead, so once again Todd and the German electronic maestros have been snubbed, of which more later. Motörhead, my final choice, were the most popular among readers of my blog. They hadn’t been nominated before so might get another chance to enter the Gilded Palace of Cleveland but with Lemmy now four years gone (and Fast Eddie, Phil Taylor and others also casualties), who’s left to pick up the award if they do?
         The other 2020 inductees are The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G., and Whitney Houston.
         This will come as something of a disappointment to fans of the Dave Matthews Band, Pat Benatar, Soundgarden and Judas Priest who grabbed first, second, fourth and fifth places respectively in the fans’ vote, a fairly recent innovation that seems to have made little difference to the final selection. Although I didn’t vote for any of them, I can’t help but wonder what was the point of this exercise when the top two fans’ choices were rebuffed. For the record, in this poll the Doobies came third, Whitney sixth, Depeche Mode seventh, Nine Inch Nails eleventh, T. Rex twelfth and Notorious B.I.G. thirteenth.         
         The fans’ vote underlines the truism that, unlike most rock critics, the majority of American rock fans have rather conservative tastes. The bottom five in the fans’ poll were T. Rex, B.I.G., Rufus/Chaka Kahn, Kraftwerk and MC5, all of whom, although hardly alternative by most standards, were the most alternative among the choices on offer. And the top five were the least alternative.
         I’m glad that Marc Bolan has finally found a resting place alongside many of his friends, although inducting T. Rex when Marc is so long gone (as are Steve Peregrin Took and Mickey Finn) is on the same level as Lemmy and Motörhead – see above. Nevertheless, I feel quite strongly that between 1971 and 1975 T. Rex were outgunned and outclassed by the criminally overlooked Slade when it came to making hit singles. I suppose Marc deserves his posthumous induction if for no other reason than it is now over 50 years since he released his first record and in his time he served rock’s cause honourably, which is why I voted for him. I wonder who’ll collect his award.
         Of the other winners, The Doobie Brothers have been around a long time too, and on this count they were probably the favourites anyway. Nevertheless it is ignominious that, unless I’m mistaken, the infinitely superior Little Feat have never been nominated, let alone inducted. Anyone who happened to see both bands any time between 1973 and 1976 will know what I’m on about.
         Re the rest, Trent Raznor seems like the kind of guy I would enjoy a drink with; Dep Mode, whom I voted for, made some ace records; I’m not a rap fan so can’t judge B.I.G., who died of shotgun wounds in 1997, on his work but it’s notable that he’s been inducted in his first year of eligibility; and Whitney probably got the nod for having so many hits even though she isn’t rock’n’roll in my book regardless of those top notes she could hit.
         I’ve lost count how many times Kraftwerk have been nominated but not inducted. Their pioneering use of synthesiser and repetitive beats are the foundation for modern music and for them to have been snubbed again seems to reflect an ongoing anti-European bias that I’ve commented on before. They certainly deserve to be inducted, even if the way in which they conducted their career was the antithesis of the clichéd rock'n'roll lifestyle. There are bitter feelings amongst the members of the ‘classic’ KW but Ralf Hütter’s annexation of the group as his personal domain is no reason to disbar them.
         I am far more surprised that Todd Rundgren hasn’t been inducted as he seems to fit the HoF’s requirements to a tee: a cult musician with some fabulous songs (inc. ‘Hello It’s Me’ & ‘I Saw The Light’) and two classic albums (Something/Anything & A Wizard, A True Star) in his CV, leader of two bands (The Nazz & Utopia), a record producer (Grand Funk & NY Dolls), innovative electronics pioneer and all-round DIY, slightly eccentric rock’n’roll talent. He’s even had an interesting personal life so what’s not to like about Todd?
         The induction ceremony will take place at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland on May 2, later in the year than usual. This year, for the first time, HBO will broadcast the event live rather than edited and aired a few weeks later, so with a bit of luck the speeches won’t be censored as they have been in the past.


        

6.1.20

A WHOLE SCENE GOING ON by Barry Fantoni



Commissioned by Melody Maker’s editor Ray Coleman to draw cartoons to accompany the exploits of Jiving K. Boots, Chris Welch’s fictitious, Catford-based rock also ran, Barry Fantoni was a regular visitor to our Fleet Street HQ when I worked there in the early seventies. He looked to me like a man in a hurry, always off to somewhere more interesting than our rather drab offices, so I never got to know him. I wish I had, though, because maybe over a beer or two he’d have been able to tell me more about the adventures he’s chronicled in A Whole Scene Going On, his memoir of the sixties to which I was alerted by a review on my former MM colleague Richard Williams’ blog The Blue Moment.
         If the title doesn't ring a bell and you google AWSG and find it on YouTube you’ll discover it was the name of a BBC TV show, a short-lived rival to ITV’s Ready Steady Go!, for which Fantoni acted as co-host, alongside Wendy Varnals. Who fans will recognise Wendy as the plummy voiced interviewer who in 1966 prompted Pete Townshend to admit on TV to takings drugs and pronounce The Beatles ‘flipping lousy’, a clip now widely seen since it featured in their movie The Kids Are Alright.
         With his pudding-basin hair, Fantoni looked a bit like a refugee from The Kinks or The Small Faces, certainly a man at the centre of all that was swinging in the sixties. Although co-hosting AWSG raised his profile and brought him a modicum of fame - and even a fan club - he was primarily an artist, as in painter, a regular contributor of cartoons and jokes to Private Eye and also a musician, a bit of a sixties jack-of-all trades which meant that he came into contact with everyone who was at the forefront in that renaissance decade, so his memoir is filled with captivating, mostly affectionate but occasionally dry, anecdotes about them all.
         There are stories about Paul and Jane, about The Kinks and The Who, about Marianne and Dusty, about Pete’n’Dud, about David Hemmings, about the trendier footballers of the era, a few writers, designer and painters, most of whom he recalls in sketches that shed new or different light on their personalities. There’s even one about Jimmy Page whose mum Barry admired a great deal, and not just for the sandwiches she made when Barry popped around to the Page house in Epsom in the hope that Jimmy would add music to a song he’d written.
         Fantoni is disarmingly frank about all those he meets which is not only refreshing but also suggests he’s telling it like it really was and not how he thinks people might prefer to remember it. Collated in a scattershot, non-chronological fashion, it’s the antidote to those awful showbiz memoirs in which everyone is wonderful, and I was much amused by his regular disparaging allusions to David Hockney, whom he believes to be less talented than some would have you believe. He doesn’t much like Jeff Beck either, but this has nothing to do with his skill on a guitar, nor Robert Fraser, the gallery owner who was jailed along with Mick and Keith after the notorious Redlands bust. He doesn’t much like the Stones as people for that matter either.
         Having been a regular reader of Private Eye for as long as I can remember, Fantoni’s insights into the inner working of the UK’s foremost satirical magazine were particularly enjoyable for me. The UK’s libel laws being amongst the most punitive anywhere, PI was constantly in danger of being sued by wealthy villains and not just the magazine but those who printed and distributed it too, which meant that those at the nuts and bolts end were in as much danger as those who wrote for it. There’s a touch of David and Goliath about the way Fantoni describes the magazine’s ups and downs, and we can all be grateful to the printer in Neasden who didn’t give a monkeys about PI’s rich foes.
         The well-known aphorism advocates that if you can remember the sixties you weren’t there but Fantoni disproves this, even if some of his stories seem chronologically awry. I don’t believe, for example that Ray Coleman was interviewing John Lennon for his future biography in the back of Lennon’s Rolls-Royce in the sixties, and I’m a bit confused by some of his Townshend stories, or at least when they happened. Still, this makes no real difference to what is a thoroughly entertaining and occasionally enlightening read.


4.1.20

MY STINT AS MELODY MAKER’S MAN IN AMERICA, PART 10 – Los Angeles, August-December 1973




The Who, on stage at the LA Forum, November 1973

On November 22, six days after my trip to Disneyland, I was at the LA Forum for the first of two shows by The Who, a group I knew well and whose fortunes I followed keenly. I’d already seen them many times in the UK and was convinced that on a good night no one could touch them for power, intensity and, above all, sheer unbridled excitement, but the word was out that this tour, on which they played virtually every song from Quadrophenia, their new album, wasn’t going as well as they’d hoped. Two nights previously, on the opening date at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Keith had collapsed towards the end of the concert whereupon, at Pete’s behest, a member of the audience had climbed on stage, settled himself behind the drums and played along for three more numbers.
         I hadn’t seen The Who for over a year, my longest gap between Who shows since joining the staff of MM in 1970. I was desperately looking forward to seeing them again, the only blue note being that I wouldn’t be able to bring Christine along to the Forum to witness the wonder of The Who in full flight alongside me.
         Tour boss Pete Rudge gave me a yellow laminate with the nuclear radiation symbol on the front, for some reason the Quadrophenia tour all-access pass, and all seemed well in the dressing room, but when The Who arrived on stage I knew something wasn’t quite right. The show lacked the reckless spontaneity of previous performances I’d seen, partly because most of the songs from Quadrophenia required them to play along to tapes of pre-recorded synthesisers. This restricted their free-flowing style, so the hell-for-leather momentum that surged through The Who at their best was missing somewhere. The problem was exacerbated when Roger and Pete paused the set to explain the story of Quadrophenia – Mod-related and therefore difficult for Americans to grasp – between songs, and this further interrupted the flow of the concert. At the far side of the stage John looked pissed off, as if he wished they’d just shut up and get on with it, but Keith was his usual cheery self, clearly unfazed by what had happened in San Francisco.
         Still, when they were done with Quadrophenia they were as good as ever, which was probably frustrating for Pete if not the other three. The crowd still adored them, as I made clear in my MM review. “19,500 fans had stomped and cheered for over 15 minutes in the Forum, refusing to leave even though the house lights had been raised and probably well aware that The Who rarely did encores,” I wrote. “But tonight their enthusiasm was rewarded with just that. The group came back and did an encore – actually ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’ – only the second time I’ve seen this happen in watching The Who around 20 times... they blasted through the song, climaxing with Townshend unstrapping his Gibson Les Paul and, gripping the fretboard as if it were an axe, bringing it down on to the stage with a resounding crash time and time again until it cracked around the 12th fret.”
The following night I went to the second Forum show, which was an improvement on the first, and beforehand visited Keith in his suite at the Century City hotel. In the bathroom there was a gaping hole in the wash basin where the plughole ought to have been.
“What happened here?” I asked after using his loo and hesitating before turning on the tap to wash my hands.
“I had an accident,” said Keith. “Use the bath.”

In early December Ray Coleman, MM’s editor in London, rang to tell me to relocate to New York asap, just like that. The reality was that in both time and distance Los Angeles was simply too far away from London for the practical needs of doing this job. In the days before faxes, let alone e-mails, communication from the west coast of America was difficult, the courier took too long to deliver my work, the eight-hour time difference was problematic for phone conversations. I didn’t have much, just one suitcase for clothes, a portable typewriter and a stack of LPs that I had no choice but to give away, but LA had two more surprises for me.
         Because I’d been using Phil Ochs’ typewriter to write my MM stories I’d loaned my inferior Olivetti portable to Christine who could touch type and liked to use it for writing letters home. In the rather delicate circumstances that surrounded the end of our fling, I’d more or less forgotten about it. I knew that by now her boyfriend would have returned from Mexico and might even be staying with her in Santa Monica, so she – let alone he – probably wouldn’t welcome my dropping round. Nevertheless I needed to get my damn typewriter back. I called her house, got her on the phone and explained my dilemma. She agreed I could stop by so she could hand it over.
I made that difficult call on the day before I was due to leave LA. In the early evening I had just emerged from the shower and was preparing to head out to collect the typewriter when I heard the front door being opened with a key. With only a towel wrapped around my waist, I walked down the corridor towards the living room where I was confronted by none other than Phil Ochs, in person. I recognised him instantly. He didn’t look well. He was overweight, unkempt and sweating. He carried two plastic bags full of cans of beer and he sat down and opened one. I don’t think it was the first he’d had that night. 
“Michael told me you would be here,” he said. “I just came by to use the phone.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Pleased to meet you Phil.”
         “Are you going out?” he asked. 
         “Yes. I need to finish getting dressed.”
“OK. Sorry to barge in.”
“It’s your flat. But I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“I know. Michael told me.”
He looked around his living room and saw that nothing much had changed. Then he went over to the stereo and put on an album of classical music, very loud, fortissimo. Then he switched on the TV news and cranked up the volume so that it could be heard above the music. Then he picked up a telephone and made a call, yelling into the phone. The din was far, far louder than anything I had made in the previous three months. Phil drained his beer, threw the can on the floor and opened another, and then another. The music and TV blared on and when I was dressed and back in the living room I sussed that he was ringing round trying to find a bed for the night. He virtually ignored me. After about five calls he found one, and promptly left as suddenly as he had arrived.
“I gotta rush,” he shouted, gathering up the bags of beer cans. “See you around.”
He slammed the door behind him and I turned off the stereo and TV and sat down. The silence was deafening. I’d wanted to tell him about how I’d enjoyed living in his flat, about how I’d appreciated listening to his records, about how I’d taken advantage of his library, maybe even discuss his book The Sexual History Of The World War. I wanted to tell him that I was genuinely grateful for having had the opportunity to live among his possessions and that it had been an enlightening experience for me. But he was gone.

Half an hour later I drove to Santa Monica, to the house where Christine worked as an au pair, to collect my typewriter from her. I rang the bell and she came to the door with it but instead of simply handing it over she stepped outside into the night and walked down the path. I followed her until we were a short distance away from the house, out of earshot. It was an awkward moment, the first time we’d seen one another since the return drive from Disneyland.
“Thanks for letting me borrow this,” she said, giving me the typewriter.
“It was a pleasure,” I said. “And so was everything else.”
I looked up and in the doorway a few yards behind her was the silhouette of a young man I didn’t recognise but assumed was her boyfriend. He was staring down at us, unsmiling. I didn’t know how much he knew about what Christine and I had got up to while he was in Mexico.
“Yes, I know,” she was saying. “And thank you for everything else too. It was… it was lovely. You were so lovely to me. I won’t forget it.”
She touched my cheek, a last act of affection, and I squeezed her hand. Then we turned our backs on one another, both of us assuming that this really was the end and we wouldn’t see each other again, ever. A few minutes later I was driving back to Hollywood. I didn’t feel like going out on the town on my own, so on my last night in LA I ate alone at Ben Franks on Sunset, then went back to Phil’s apartment and watched TV.
         The next day I packed my case, dropped off the Ford Pinto at LAX and flew to New York, checking into the Gorham Hotel at 136 West 55th Street. A week or so later I moved into an apartment above a deli on Lexington Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets. From now on, and for the next three years, I would be MM’s US correspondent based in the Big Apple, like Roy Hollingworth and Michael Watts before me.

And that just about concludes my memoir of the time I spent as Melody Maker’s man in America in Los Angeles but if you’ve read this far it would be remiss of me not to close by mentioning that Christine and I did meet again, and quite soon as it happened.
         Christmas was fast approaching, my first away from home, and I didn’t fancy spending it alone. More out of hope than expectation, I called Christine in LA, inviting her to join me in New York for the holiday, even offering to pay for her flight. To my astonishment and delight she accepted. She was due to return to the UK soon anyway and, providentially from my point of view, her boyfriend had preceded her. In a mature and, for me, uncharacteristic understanding that rarely happens in the real world, we agreed that our attachment was strong enough to withstand the switch from romantic to platonic, from lovers to friends.
         And so it was that after a chaste night in bed together on Lexington Avenue, on Christmas Day morning of 1973, 47 years ago last week, Christine and I bundled up against the crisp New York winter and took in the splendour of Central Park from the back seat of a horse-drawn carriage.
         All’s well that ends well.